Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation makes my personal top ten list of books I have read. I'm slow-reading some of this book this morning, and the result is that I'm being taken into the deep places of the heart where I meet Christ in me, the hope of glory. For me, Merton is an exceptionally good guide in this.
Merton, who died in 1968, was a Trappist monk who spent countless hours praying and meditating on God, Jesus, the Spirit, Scripture, and culture. One reason he had time for this is that he never watched TV - not once, I think. Good for him. And, for us, the beneficiaries. Yet Merton had more insights into life than most people. Merton cultivated discernment and wisdom and real knowledge. He was a deep person. Which is, by the way, what we really need today - more deep persons (rather than internet top-feeders).
Merton died while on a trip to Bangkok, which is where I am going Nov. 12-19. He was accidentally electrocuted in his room. In New Seeds Merton writes:
"When the time comes to enter the darkness in which we are naked and helpless and alone; in which we see the insufficiency of our greatest strength and the hollowness of our strongest virtues; in which we have nothing of our own to rely on, and nothing in our nature to support us, and nothing in the world to guide us or give us light - then we find out whether we live by faith."
Nice. Deep. Life-and-death stuff that brings perspective. Proverbs 20:5 says, "The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding will draw them out." Merton understood things. To "understand" is, literally, to "stand under." Which implies: to go deep. To understand one's own self in the face of God is a very, very deep thing. Self-understanding before God is a necessary prerequisite to understanding others. Remain self-ignorant and you'll misunderstand others. Why? Because the deeper we go in persons the more we are all the same. If that were not true the Gospel would only be for a few people. The Gospel speaks to us all precisely because it refuses to be shallow and descends into the heart's deep waters. Merton went there. That's why, for example, he's so brilliantly insightful about ontological issues like life and death (per the quote above).
As God took Merton by the hand and led him into the deep waters of his own heart the vastness of the human heart opened up before him, in all it's majesty and tragedy. This caused Merton to write, e.g., in No Man Is an Island:
"No matter what our aims may be, no matter how spiritual, no matter how intent we think we are upon the glory of God and His Kingdom, greed and passion enter into our work and turn it into agitation as soon as our intention ceases to be pure. And who can swear that his intentions are pure, even down to the subconscious depths of his will, where ancient selfish motives move comfortably like forgotten sea monsters where they are never seen!" (110)
What are life's important themes? They include: life, death, self, people, trust, fear, hope, faith, knowledge, truth, falsehood, right, wrong, hope, love, and God.
Turn off the TV for a few days. Leave your laptop behind. And your I-phone. Text no one. Meet with God in the depths of your heart. And live.